How to Find Mineral Rights in Montana

Two Parts:Preparing to Search for Mineral RightsTracing the Chain of Title

Montana is rich in minerals. In addition to gold, there is abundant silver, coal, and talc. To find out who owns mineral rights, you will need to do a property search. Because mineral rights can be severed from the rest of the property, you will need to search specifically for who owns the mineral rights. This can be a complicated process, and you may find an attorney’s assistance helpful.

Part 1
Preparing to Search for Mineral Rights

  1. Image titled Find Mineral Rights in Montana Step 1
    Identify common minerals. There are many kinds of minerals that make up “mineral property.” A partial list includes:[1]
    • oil, gas, and coal
    • gold and silver
    • copper
    • talc, uranium, and bentonite
  2. Image titled Find Mineral Rights in Montana Step 2
    Understand fee simple title. Fee simple title, also called a “unified estate,” exists when the owner of the surface of the land also owns the subsurface, which includes the minerals.[2] When someone owns a piece of property in “fee simple,” then he or she also owns the mineral rights.
    • Fee simple title, however, can be split into different pieces. Specifically, a fee simple owner can choose to sell the mineral rights. This results in a “split estate”: the owner of the surface is not the owner of the subsurface minerals.[3] Split estates are very common in Montana. In fact, over 11 million acres has been split, dividing the mineral rights from surface rights.[4] For this reason, when you are looking for mineral rights, you need to know more than who owns the surface of the land.
    • Also, owners can sell some mineral rights but not others.[5] For example, if there is both oil and gas on the land, then the owner could sell the rights to the gas but retain the rights to the oil. Alternately, the owner could sell each to different owners.
  3. Image titled Find Mineral Rights in Montana Step 3
    Get a deed. To see if you own mineral rights to your property, then get a copy of your deed. You can get it from the county Recorder’s Office.[6]
    • Look to see if the previous owner conveyed fee simple title to you. The deed should record whether the mineral rights are owned by someone else.[7]
    • Unfortunately, deeds are sometimes inaccurate. Your deed may claim that you received “fee simple” title, but the mineral rights might have been sold off thirty years ago.[8] For this reason, you need to perform a title search to find out who owns the mineral rights.
  4. Image titled Find Mineral Rights in Montana Step 4
    Contact the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). A large owner of mineral rights is the United States government. You should contact BLM to ask if the government owns the mineral rights under your property.[9]
    • If the U.S. government doesn’t own the mineral rights, another person might. Accordingly, you are not finished searching for mineral rights even if the government says that it does not own those rights.
  5. Image titled Find Mineral Rights in Montana Step 5
    Hire a title company. To find out if a private person owns the rights, you need to research the chain of title. By performing this search, you can find out if the mineral rights were sold before you took ownership of the property.[10]
    • You can find a title search company in the phone book. You could also hire a member of the American Land Title Association, which is a national trade association. Visit the organization’s website and click on “For Consumers” at the top of the page.[11]
  6. Image titled Find Mineral Rights in Montana Step 6
    Set the parameters of any title search. Professional title searchers generally do not perform title searches all the way back to the original land grant. Instead, they might only trace the title chain back a few decades.[12] Consequently, you need to clarify with the title searcher how far back they will go. If mineral rights were sold off 120 years ago, then a title search that goes back 40 years will not be helpful.
    • Before hiring a title company, you should check to see how far back they are willing to search. If possible, you need a search all the way back to the original land grant.
  7. Image titled Find Mineral Rights in Montana Step 7
    Think about hiring a lawyer. You might also want to hire a lawyer instead of a title company. A lawyer will probably be more expensive. However, you should consider establishing a relationship with a lawyer, particularly if you end up owning minerals under your property. An experienced attorney will be able to help you lease those minerals to someone to mine them.
    • You can find a mineral rights attorney by visiting the state’s bar association website, which runs a Lawyer Referral Information Service. There, you may search for a lawyer by specialty. To find a mineral rights lawyer, search by “Natural Resources.”[13]
    • You may also call by phone, (406) 449-6577. Hours are Monday to Thursday, 9:00 am to 3:00 pm.

Part 2
Tracing the Chain of Title

  1. Image titled Find Mineral Rights in Montana Step 8
    Visit the Recorder of Deeds. You start the title search by visiting the office for the county where the land is located. Call the town office to find out where deeds are stored.
  2. Image titled Find Mineral Rights in Montana Step 9
    Ask staff to show you how to search. Counties preserve their deeds in different ways. In some offices, all deeds may be stored in an electronic format. In this situation you can search online. Other offices will have their deeds in bound books. Other offices will store newer deeds electronically but preserve older ones in books.
    • Tell the staff that you are searching for mineral rights to your property. The staff member should show you how to begin your search.
  3. Image titled Find Mineral Rights in Montana Step 10
    Find the immediately preceding deed. To trace the chain of title, you begin by finding the land deed immediately before yours. If you bought the land from Mr. Appleton, then you will want to find the deed that transferred the parcel from Mr. Burton to Mr. Appleton.
    • Once you find that deed, read it carefully. Look for any mention of “minerals” or “subsurface rights.” The owner may have transferred them to someone else or reserved them.[14] Read the entire deed as well as any attachments that come with it.
  4. Image titled Find Mineral Rights in Montana Step 11
    Work backwards. After you find the deed between Mr. Appleton and Mr. Burton, you need to find the deed Mr. Burton received from the prior owner. Continue to work backwards, finding each deed. This is how you create a chain of title.
    • You should go as far back in time as possible, always looking to see if an owner severed mineral rights from the property.
    • Also get a copy of every deed in the chain of title. These documents are not easy to read and you might overlook something. If you get a copy of each deed, then you can have your lawyer look over them or study them later.
  5. Image titled Find Mineral Rights in Montana Step 12
    Fill in “gaps” in the chain of title. A gap occurs when you find a deed but cannot find the preceding one. If you find the deed that Ms. Dunlap gave to Mr. Clawson, but cannot find the deed to Ms. Dunlap, then you have a “gap.” You need to search other public documents in order to fill the gap:
    • Search probate files or divorce records. Mineral rights, like all property, can be conveyed in a will or by a divorce decree.[15] Accordingly, you should visit the court clerk and search for these records.
    • Research tax sales.[16] Land can be seized and then sold as part of a private tax sale if the owner was delinquent on taxes. To search tax sale records, visit the tax assessor’s office.
  6. Image titled Find Mineral Rights in Montana Step 13
    Perform a title search for mineral property. If you find that an owner severed the mineral rights from the fee simple estate, then you can find the current owner of the mineral rights by creating a chain of title by going forward in time.[17] Mineral right owners can sell their rights to others, so you shouldn’t assume that the entity given mineral rights in the past is the current owner.
    • For example, gas mineral rights might have been sold in 1955. However, it is unlikely the person who bought them in 1955 still owns them.
    • It is probably in your best interest to hire a lawyer to help you find the current owner of mineral rights. They are very difficult to find.[18]

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Categories: Rock Gem Mineral and Fossil Collecting